International Psychogeriatrics

Research Article

Traumatic experiences and post-traumatic stress disorder among elderly Germans: results of a representative population-based survey

Heide Glaesmera1 c1, Thomas Gunzelmanna1, Elmar Braehlera1, Simon Forstmeiera2 and Andreas Maerckera2

a1 Department of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany

a2 Department of Psychopathology and Clinical Intervention, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland


Background: Only a few population-based studies on the epidemiology of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs) are available to date. Most of the existing studies are from the U.S.A. Against the background of World War II, the extent and long-term effects of war-related traumatic experiences in the German elderly population are of special interest. Nevertheless, population-based data on this topic are lacking to date.

Methods: This study examines the occurrence of traumatic experiences and the prevalence rates of PTSD according to DSM-IV and of partial PTSD in a randomly selected sample of the German general population aged 60 years and over (N = 814) using self-rating instruments.

Results: PTSD is apparent in 3.4%; when partial post-traumatic stress syndromes are included, a total of 7.2% of the aged population are involved. The most common individual symptoms resulting from war-induced trauma are avoidance of thoughts and feelings, sleep disturbances, distressing dreams and intrusive thoughts. The most frequently mentioned traumatic experiences of the generation examined in this study were war-related trauma experienced as children or in early adulthood during World War II. As a person's age increases, so does the prevalence of war-related traumatic experiences. There are some gender differences in traumatic experiences, but not in post-traumatic symptoms.

Conclusion: The results emphasize the importance of war-related traumatic experiences from World War II in the German elderly population and their impact on the prevalence of PTSD more than 60 years later.

(Received September 22 2009)

(Revised November 03 2009)

(Revised January 28 2010)

(Accepted February 01 2010)


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Dr. Heide Glaesmer, University of Leipzig, Department of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology, Philipp-Rosenthal-Str. 55, 04103 Leipzig, Germany. Phone: +49 341 9718814; Fax: +49 341 9718809. Email: